Two JSTOR Articles on 4:34

I was looking for more articles to post on this blog about 4:34 in the Qur’an and domestic violence in Islam on JSTOR.   I discovered the articles To beat or not to beat: on the exegetical dilemmas over Qur’an, 4:34 by Mohamed Mahmoud and Disciplining Wives: A Historical Reading of Qur’an 4:34 by Manuela Marin.  The first one is available free on the linked site.  The other article is available on loan through JSTOR for free.  If you are in high school or college, check to see if your institution offers JSTOR.  My county’s public library system offers many databases accessible only with a library card and some counties might offer JSTOR as well.

The first article speaks of how Muslim authors tried to limit violence in 4:34 and their different interpretations thereof.  It describes how male scholars accepted a patriarchal paradigm of men being in control of women and the ways they justified this with reflections on “superior” male qualities and “inferior” female qualities.  The final section before the conclusion focuses on feminist interpretations which are critiqued by the author.  It’s alright to critique, but he doesn’t seem to critique patriarchal interpretations to the same extent as the feminist ones.  He is dismissive of Amina Wadud’s interpretation of nushuz because he states the Qur’an privileges men over women in gender relations.  Amina Wadud doesn’t believe this.  He is doing a disservice to her by failing to recognize the reclamation by Muslim feminists of the non-patriarchal nature of the Qur’an and the wider body of Wadud’s works explaining this.  In short, he has failed to comprehend Muslim feminism while critiquing it. However, I agree with his criticism of Hassan.  Hassan’s interpretation is troubling to me, particularly as a woman who doesn’t desire children, because it implies women’s reproductive rights should rest with men and that men could (or can) force women into submission until they reproduce.

Mahmoud does not critique interpretations of the words qawwamuna (qawwam) and qanitatun (qanitat) and phrase bima faddala lahu ba’dahum ala ba’din in 4:34.  The male mufassirun assumed male authority over women from these words, so there is no critical discussion of these ideas from a feminist perspective. Mahmoud also accepts the traditional interpretations are factual.

The second paper is longer and more intensive.  As the title suggests, she focuses on historical perspectives on 4:34.  She delves into historical sources to recreate the context of the ayah and domestic abuse and husband-wife relations in the early Muslim community.  She explores interpretations of 4:34 and its historical practice and implications through different societies.  The material reveals startling misogyny and violence in the works of interpreters, like Tabari and Abu Hayyan, but she ultimately concludes the interpreters justified and allowed violence against women while limiting the extent of the violence.

This article, like Mahmoud’s article, is not a critique of patriarchy. The interpreters accepted patriarchy as kings accepted their right to govern was granted by God.  The article has no critique of patriarchal concepts commonly derived from the verse like male-over-female authority in marriage, male superiority, and female subordination in marriage. The only discussion of these concepts is in the ways they were accepted and expounded by the interpreters. There is no challenge to patriarchal beliefs in this article.  This paper is very well researched.

Both articles describe the history of interpretations of 4:34 but do not deconstruct patriarchy or challenge traditions of domestic violence in Islam as this is not their academic goal.  I found Marin’s article well-worth reading for the extensive details on the historical origins (asbab al-nuzul), practices, and interpretations of 4:34.  For academic papers deconstructing the first part of 4:34, read the book Men in Charge?: Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition.  For a more in-depth view of domestic violence in Islam, read Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition by Ayesha Chaudhry.

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